MyKayla Skinner was much too excited to think about sleep.
That was the first thing the University of Utah star gymnast said late Sunday night in an interview with NBC’s Hoda Kotb that aired Monday morning on the “Today” show.
In what has become something of a tradition, the television broadcaster sat down with the six American women who will represent the United States in the Tokyo Olympics following the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials.
Joined by incoming Utah gymnast Grace McCallum, as well as Simone Biles, Suni Lee, Jordan Chiles and Jade Carey, Skinner fielded questions from Kotb about her well-documented journey to qualify for the Olympics.
It is a journey that began as long ago as 2012, when the Gilbert, Arizona, native failed to qualify for the Olympic trials. Skinner came much closer to the Olympics in 2016, but missed out on an Olympic berth then as well, settling for an alternate role.
After finally getting her Olympic breakthrough Sunday, Skinner was over the moon.
“I don’t think I’ll be sleeping,” she said. “Even after last Olympics and being so close to it, I’m really glad that I never gave up my dream and I kept going.”
Kotb also discussed some of the challenges Skinner dealt with since electing to try for the Olympics, included among them a foot injury in which a bone spur aggravates her Achilles tendon, as well as being hospitalized with pneumonia after contracting COVID-19.
“I know,” Skinner said. “I survived.”
As for McCallum, who is a member of the four-person group that is the favorite to take home the team gold medal, as compared to Skinner and Carey who will compete in Tokyo as individuals, Kotb pressed her on what it is like to compete on a stage as intense as the Olympic trials.
McCallum had a breakout performance Sunday that saw her finish fourth overall in the all-around competition.
“You just have to remember, ‘I’ve done a thousand of these routines in the gym,’” McCallum said. “You just have to trust yourself and trust your gymnastics and that you know what you’re doing.”
Kotb ultimately interviewed all six athletes during the seven-minute spot, joking with Biles and Skinner about their status as elders on the team — both gymnasts are 24 years old, with Skinner a few months older than Biles — and discussing the influence that both Lee and Carey’s fathers have had on them (Lee’s father was partially paralyzed in 2019, while Carey’s father is her coach).
Early Monday afternoon, the gymnasts spoke with media and Skinner explained how surreal the last 24 hours have been.
“It still hasn’t hit me yet,” she said. “Is this real? It felt like trials haven’t even happened yet. ... It’s so crazy that this is really happening, so I’m sure once I settle in with it, it’ll hit me.”
As an individual competitor, Skinner will be competing in a role a little unfamiliar to her, but she feels prepared nonetheless.
“This individual spot is different, too, because you’re not competing with the team, but overall I think having the experience from Rio is going to prepare me going into this Olympics,” she said. “Any person on Team USA could go out and win. It’s hard to know who to put on the team, who not to put on, so while I’d love to be on the four-man team, no matter who we put on the team, they’re going to do great.
“At least I have the opportunity to go out and try to make finals. You never know what can happen. I want to be able to step in if I need to, even (to make) bars and beam finals. Probably not gonna happen, but it’s cool I have the opportunity to try.”
McCallum didn’t actually believe she’d make the Olympic team, after undergoing surgery on her hand earlier in the year, so to perform the way she did and earn a spot on the four-member team “was so unreal.”
“I had to get surgery and they put in a plate and screws, so I was kind of devastated,” she said. “I thought my Olympic dreams were gone because the recovery was gonna be long. At the time, bars was my best event ... where I was in January, a 15 was my goal (on bars). It was really hard for me to process knowing I’d have to relearn everything again. It’s been a long process but I’m really happy with where I’ve come. They announced Simone, Suni, and Jordan first, so when they announced my name, I just couldn’t believe it.”
McCallum and Skinner were in competition for the final spot on the team all weekend, but there was no animosity between them.
“We wanted to give each other a hug because we worked so hard for this moment,” McCallum said. “... It’s really nice to have MyKayla as part of the team. She makes you feel not so homesick. She’s so friendly and caring, and makes sure you feel comfortable. She’s the mom of the group. She makes you feel safe. I’m really excited she’s on the team.”
Given she is still making her way back from surgery, the Isanti, Minnesota, native hopes to be even better by the time the Olympics roll around.
“I’m working on another bar routine at the moment so I’m hoping to get that ready to compete in Tokyo,” she said, before adding that she is also training two new vaults and wants to improve on both her beam and floor routines. “We’ll see if they’re ready for the competition surface.”
Olympic competition for the gymnasts begins July 25 with qualification for event finals. Following that will be the team final (July 27), the all-around final (July 29), and then the event finals. Vault and uneven bars will be Aug. 1, floor exercise will be Aug. 2 and balance beam will be Aug 3.